A press release is a short article (rarely more than one page long) written in a style similar to a news story, typically publicizing important information or research. Press releases are intended to give reporters and editors the highlights and background of an issue or subject so they can decide whether to publish a story about it or perhaps further investigate the information or research.
If you ask 10 people to write a press release about the same information or research, you will likely get 10 different documents. Everyone has a different way of writing and phrasing.
In terms of press releases on research, they can be pre- or post-publication; that is, they can be about a forthcoming study or they can be about a study that has recently been published. For pre-publication releases, you must have a final copy of your study that you can share with reporters under embargo. When you use an embargo, you provide your research to reporters before it is published and establish a date—usually the date the research will be published—when they can run their stories. Pre-publication releases are more likely to generate press coverage.
There is no one best way to write a press release, but there are a few guidelines or best practices you should follow.
- Who, What, When, Where, and Why: These are the key elements to include in all your publicity materials, whether it is a press release, fact sheet, media advisory, or public service announcement. Occasionally, “How” is important to include as well.
- Lead (lede) Paragraph: The first paragraph of a press release. It should be reasonably short and grab the reader’s attention—often by including the most interesting piece of information you are trying to convey—so that he or she will read the rest of the release. This is sometimes called “hooking” the reader.
- Order of Descending Importance: After the lead comes the body of the release. This is where you give greater details about the study or subject of the release. Generally, present these details in order of descending importance—most important near the top, least important near the bottom. Typically, the body also includes quotes from the researcher if the press release is about a study or quotes from a person of authority (e.g., a university president or the executive officer of an association) if the release is on a subject other than research.
- Keep it Short and Simple: Media outlets receive hundreds of correspondences (e.g., press releases, emails, etc.) everyday. Reporters and editors do not have time to read through lengthy submissions. As previously mentioned, try to keep releases about one page long. Avoid jargon; if high school students would not be able to understand it, then it probably needs to be rephrased.
Final Thoughts: Press releases are meant to inform reporters and editors. Reporters generally prefer to write their own stories rather than publish press releases verbatim. Also, reporters and editors constantly receive story pitches and are more likely to respond to sources who they have relationships with or who they view as reputable (i.e., university public information officers, publishers, or ASA Office of Public Affairs and Public Information staff members). Keep in mind that spamming or inundating reporters with releases may turn them off to you and to sociology.
For more information, contact the ASA Office of Public Affairs and Public Information at (202) 383-9005 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.